JACKSON — Focusing on the resources needed to achieve the state’s goal for higher education, Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Glenn F. Boyce presented the universities’ budget request for Fiscal Year 2017 to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee at a hearing this morning in Jackson.
As outlined in the Statewide Strategic Plan, the state’s goal for higher education is “to make available an accessible, quality public higher education at an affordable cost that prepares Mississippians to become productive, financially self-sufficient members of society while meeting the human resource needs of Mississippi and its employers, including the creation of new jobs through the commercialization of university-based research.”
“This is a good goal for higher education in Mississippi,” said Dr. Boyce. “We support this goal and are working to attain it through increasing educational attainment, supporting economic development and solving Mississippi’s most pressing problems. However, we must have the resources necessary to do the work required to achieve this goal.”
Mississippi Public Universities enroll almost 94,000 students each year and awarded more than 16,800 degrees in the most recent year. This year, fall enrollment reached its highest point in history, with 81,132 students. Universities lead more than 2,500 research projects.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center is the state’s leader in addressing Mississippi’s healthcare issues. With 2,900 students in 28 degree programs, UMMC has 28,000 inpatient admissions and more than 250,00 outpatient and emergency department visits annually. UMMC’s Telehealth program is improving rural access to healthcare by offering more than 30 medical specialties at more than 100 clinical sites.
The universities’ request included an increase of $50.1 million for faculty and staff salaries and an additional $14.2 million for student financial aid over the appropriation for Fiscal Year 2016. It also includes a request of $17 million to address facility repair and renovation needs.
“To increase educational attainment, we must attract and retain faculty and staff, maintain our infrastructure and increase accessibility,” said Dr. Boyce. “Our request is a direct reflection of this.”
Average salaries in Mississippi are 83 percent of the average salaries in other Southern Regional Education Board states.
“We can’t overstate the importance of faculty and staff on student success and research,” said Dr. Boyce. “Our faculty members serve as an inspiration to students and help them persist and graduate, our staff members provide essential services that protect student safety, help students persist, and help students find jobs after graduation. Our researchers conduct important research that helps solve Mississippi’s most pressing problems.”
The request includes $17 million to address facility needs. Universities must maintain the safe, secure and state-of-the-art facilities that students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community expect. In addition to eight main campuses, the university system includes the medical center and 12 satellite centers.
This includes more than 1,600 buildings totaling more than 32 million square feet. More than 70 percent of IHL Buildings are more than 25 years old from construction date. More than 52 percent are more than 25 years from the last major renovation.
“The facilities infrastructure goes beyond the brick and mortar one expects,” said Dr. Boyce. “Our faculty, staff and students must have the technology infrastructure necessary to have the teaching and learning opportunities they expect in the 21st century.”
The request also includes a $14.2 million increase for student financial aid funding. There are currently 29,909 students receiving financial aid at public and private universities and community colleges.
“Having wonderful faculty and great buildings and programs only helps those students who can get through the door,” said Dr. Boyce. “We are very concerned about the issue of access and are considering how this issue will look 10 to 20 years down the road. Student financial aid plays a tremendous role in enabling students to stay in school and graduate.”
Dr. Boyce noted that the Board of Trustees has lead several initiatives to keep costs down, including:
· A system-wide energy savings programs that has saved $70 million.
· A system approach to property insurance has saved $45 million.
· Textbook policies to help keep those costs down as much as possible.
· Annual reviews of all academic programs.
The Board is also exploring the possibility of implementing other cost-savings measures, including:
· Expanding the MissiON Network, the state’s high-bandwidth internet backbone for research universities, to include the regional universities.
· Establishing a system-wide Employee Assistance Program, which will allow universities to pool resources and save money.
“I know we share the goal of ensuring that every student who has the drive and desire to earn a college degree has that opportunity,” said Dr. Boyce. “It is what is right for Mississippi’s students of today and tomorrow and it is a key building block in the building the Mississippi of the future that we all want.”